Comparing Light, Medium, Dark, And Espresso Coffee Roasts By Flavor Profile, History, Acidity, And More

13 min read JUL 13, 2023

Coffee connoisseurs know that savoring each sip of this delightful brew is an art.

The region where the coffee is grown, how it’s grown, the grade of coffee, each of these factors can make or break a truly great cup of joe.

But, what about different coffee roasts: light, medium, dark, espresso?

Perhaps you’re aware of these selections, and maybe you even have a preferred roast already?

But, each coffee roast has a completely unique flavor profile and acidity level.

Of course, coffee roast preferences can vary from person to person. What one person loves, another person greatly dislikes.

But, even something as simple as your brewing method can change the way these unique flavors are brought out for your enjoyment.

So, today we’d like to explore the ins and outs of each roast by answering some of the following questions and more:

  • What flavors can you expect with each roast?
  • Which roast is the least acidic?
  • What are the best ways to brew each roast?
  • Do some roasts contain more caffeine than others?

Read on as we discuss each roast individually where you’ll either learn a bit more about your preferred roast or be enticed to branch out and try something new.

Light Roast

Light Roast

While we’ll start here with the lightest roast of coffee, this selection isn’t the oldest or most historically popular roast.

Light roast, according to my personal taste preference, is the most flavorful, bright, and sweet brew on the planet, but of course, the definition of the perfect cup of joe varies widely from person to person.

However, since light roast does happen to be in my wheelhouse of favorites, before we get into how it’s made, let me share with you, counting the ways if you will, the wonderful things to love about light roast:

1) A true light roast boasts the best flavors of the region where the coffee beans you’re indulging in have been grown. For Lifeboost, this means high within the rainforest mountains of Nicaragua, which yields mild fruity notes of dried figs and slightly sweet chocolate.

2) You may have heard light roasts described as being more acidic than other roasts, and while this selection does in fact have a slightly lower pH than darker roasts, this description primarily refers to the brew’s brightness.

The acidic nature or the brightness of light roasted coffee is really the window through which you can fully experience those origin flavor notes we mentioned above.

Someone once described the brightness/acidity of light roast as the factor which gives the brew character while amplifying its flavors, much like how the addition of the acidic and bright juices of key limes transform an ordinary and dull, yet sweet, pie into the classic, and loved, key lime pie.

3) Light roasts are often not described as smooth, compared to darker roasts, but especially in low acid coffee, like Lifeboost, personally I find the light roast to be just as smooth as darker selections.

It’s generally the brightness that we just discussed which can sometimes negate the notion of smoothness in a light roasted coffee, but for those that enjoy the purity evoked in such a brew, the residual fruity, somewhat sweet, flavor and mouthfeel are truly unrivaled.

4) For my personal liking, I wouldn’t call this a downside, but if you do prefer a deeply rich and bold brew, light roasts may taste a little thin for your liking. We’ll get to the flavors brought out by longer roasting times and higher temps in a moment, but regarding this roast in particular, its overall aroma and flavor is much less robust or bold than darker roasts.

Light roasts are relatively new to the coffee scene, as achieving the flavors we just discussed proved difficult for roasters for some time.

When coffee was first introduced in America, the now loved brew went through several stages or waves.

The first wave essentially involved the introduction of the brew, and at this time flavor, origin, and precise roasting just weren’t all that big of a concern.

The second wave, while it did introduce more flavor and quality, this phase in coffee’s evolution still focused on darker selections as roasters seemed to struggle to find the perfect time and temp to achieve a truly good light roasted coffee.

Then, with coffee’s third wave, beginning in the 1980’s, roasters, cafes, and baristas alike began to really focus on quality, sourcing, and a more precise craft in roasting which has brought about an age of coffee, now including light roasts, where the best and most unique flavors of the beans are experienced.

What roasters learned during this time, and have been improving since, is how time and temperature can change your entire experience when it comes to coffee.

Light roasts, as the name suggests, are not only the lightest in bean color, but this coffee has indeed been only lightly roasted as compared to medium and darker roasts.

Like all roasts, light roast coffee begins with dried green coffee beans.

And, while every roaster varies slightly in their precise process, most light roasted coffee involves roasting green coffee beans at temperatures ranging between 356-405 degrees Fahrenheit for only a short period of time (roughly ten minutes or less).

The result is a light brown, dry bean without the presence of the bean’s natural oils.

Technically, the caffeine levels in a cup of light roast and dark roast are the same, but this comes with a slight caveat:

Light roasted coffee beans are slightly smaller than darker roasted beans as they’ve not been roasted long enough to cause the beans to expand. Therefore, if you’re measuring your coffee by volume instead of weight, you may end up with a slightly more caffeinated cup when choosing light roast as compared to dark roast.

To give a better picture, those measuring their beans by weight often note no difference at all in caffeine levels between dark and light roasts.

And, once you’ve measured your beans by weight to ensure a consistent cup each and every time, the best methods for brewing light roast include both cold brewing and pour over.

Personally, I find cold brewing to be superior as this method can take out that extra bit of acidity in light roast while maintaining the amazing flavor profile specific to this bright and uniquely flavorful selection.

And, cold brewing also produces a less acidic brew overall, so it’s easier on your stomach as well. A win, win!

But, if you’re looking for the perfect hot brew, the pour over method certainly yields an amazing cup of light roast as well.

Medium Roast

Medium roasted coffee, again as the name suggests, essentially sits right between a true light roast and a perfect dark roast. It’s the Goldilocks brew if you will, not too light and not too dark, instead it’s just right.

Medium roast is what many consider to be the most popular brew, which is why you’ll likely find this roast readily served at cafes and coffeehouses.

While some would classify medium roast as that which was in coffee’s first wave, the original commodity coffee which failed to focus on flavor profile and quality, today’s medium roasts have soared to the top of the coffee popularity charts for good reason.

A quality medium roast, which most of us are fully acquainted with in today’s coffee culture, can be described as perfectly smooth, balanced, full-bodied, and rounded.

Medium roast selections both complement the sweetness in the coffee as well as bring out those unique and subtle flavors in the beans.

For instance, Lifeboost medium roast brings forward flavors reminiscent of chocolate covered figs, a balance of creamy and nutty flavors with sweet, fruity top notes.

To achieve this level of quality in flavor, medium roasted coffee is roasted for longer periods of time and at higher temperatures than lighter roasts.

Typically, this means the coffee beans will be roasted between ten and fifteen minutes at temperatures between 400-430 degrees Fahrenheit, and this will allow a small amount of the coffee’s natural oils to sometimes appear on the medium-dark brown beans.

Medium roasted coffee beans also have a more bold aroma and flavor compared to light roast as the roasting time and temperature dulls the natural acidity of the beans.

These factors are also what heightens the sweet flavors in the bean, essentially caramelizing the sugars and bringing these confectionery tastes forward for you to enjoy as you sip without being as deep and rich as a dark roast.

Like light roast, the caffeine levels in medium roast don’t vary much at all if you’re weighing your beans before brewing, even though medium roasted beans are slightly larger than light roasted beans.

However, if you measure your beans by volume, a medium roast can have faintly less caffeine than light roast.

Like light roast, both cold brewing and the pour over method make a great cup of medium roast coffee, with cold brewing actually yielding a smooth and slightly sweeter cup here.

And, for those who prefer using a french press, brewing this way will serve to bring out more flavor as this method incorporates longer brewing times.

But, the most popular brewing method for medium roast is traditional drip coffee.

Dark Roast

Dark roasted coffee is the richest, most robust, and bold roast of coffee within the traditional light, medium, and dark roasts, with only espresso (which we’ll explore momentarily) accomplishing darker and bolder flavor and aroma profiles.

If you drink dark roasted coffee, you’ll likely notice your dark brown, almost black coffee beans have an oily sheen, a characteristic which is brought about by long roasting times at high temperatures.

As the structure of the coffee bean breaks down, these oils appear and ultimately enhance the flavors you experience.

Speaking of which, most of the flavors you enjoy in a dark roast are specific to the expertise and talent of the roaster.

Roasting for nearly 15 minutes at temperatures ranging from 430-450 (sometimes up to 480) degrees Fahrenheit, the coffee beans lose their regional flavor profile entirely, instead arriving at a rich, buttery, caramelized sweetness which is often described as full-bodied.

Some folks confuse this roast’s classic bitterness for acidity, but of the three main roasts of coffee, light, medium, and dark, this roast (dark) is the least acidic. Lifeboost dark roast, in fact, is almost as alkaline as water!

While I’m typically a light roast snob, I must admit, enjoying a cup of low acid dark roast can almost guarantee you’ll have no tummy issues (unless you’re sensitive to caffeine or your mug additions like cream and sugar, of course).

Generally speaking, dark roasts are thought to have the least amount of caffeine, but once again, this is typically only true if you measure your beans by volume.

Having been roasted for a longer amount of time, at higher temperatures, dark roasted coffee beans are larger than light and medium roasts.

So, when measuring by volume, instead of weight, you’ll actually have fewer beans to grind per cup which would technically yield less caffeine in your mug, though it would yield a less concentrated brew as well.

Another perk for dark roast lovers is that this selection is bold and smooth enough to be enjoyed black, but rich enough to withstand ingredients like heavy cream and sugars while still fully showcasing its buttery flavors through these additions.

You can certainly brew dark roast with traditional drip brewing methods or by pour over, but most prefer a French press.

And, if you prefer the bold flavors brought out through a French press but don’t care for the occasional grounds at the bottom of your mug, an Aeropress is also commonly recommended for brewing dark roasted coffee.


A common misconception surrounding espresso is that this type of coffee is in an entirely different category. Some even believe espresso is made from a completely different type of coffee bean.

However, what actually separates espresso from other roasts simply comes down to roasting and preparation methods.

Truth be known, the entire concept of espresso was born through impatience.

As coffee gained great popularity in Europe, and brewing times sometimes took up to 5 minutes, Angelo Moriondo came up with a way to cut coffee wait times significantly.

Moriondo is credited with patenting the first espresso machine in 1884. And, this innovative way to brew coffee by forcing small amounts of intensely hot water, under pressure, through tightly packed, finely ground coffee beans not only delivered java more quickly, but this new way of brewing resulted in a coffee that was (is) unparalleled in flavor, aroma, and presentation.

Espresso begins by roasting coffee beans for longer periods of time at higher temperatures, resulting in a rich, ultra dark roasted bean.

Then, once finely ground and prepared using Moriondo’s method (in an espresso machine), the result is a bold flavored, slightly thickened, aromatic, condensed, and thus powerfully caffeinated, java. And remember, all of this is made in a fraction of the time it takes to brew an 8 ounce cup of coffee.

Since its beginning, espresso has become a staple in most coffee houses and in many homes. Its ultra-bold flavor makes the perfect base to stand up to just about any addition (milk, cream, caramel, vanilla, chocolate, and so much more) while still delivering the rich coffee flavors we all know and love.

Due to the longer roasting times and greater temps (over 450 degrees Fahrenheit) needed to make espresso, this roast contains more oils than lighter roasted beans and is less acidic than typical light, medium, and dark coffee roasts.

Espresso beans are typically shiny and nearly black in color. When prepared, as we briefly mentioned above, espresso is somewhat thicker than regular brewed coffee, as this brewing method produces a more condensed cup.

Espresso has a more bold or rich flavor than regular roasts, and its consistency and low acidity contributes to its typical balanced, well-rounded, and full-bodied finish.

One of the most popular ways folks like to enjoy espresso is simply by the shot, with a double shot being preferred most often.

Each espresso shot is roughly one ounce, and rather than brewing, this method (using an espresso machine) terms the process as pulling. So, the most popular espresso drink is a double, or two pulled shots of espresso.

Single or double shots of espresso are typically served in a small cup called a demitasse and have a unique, and beautiful in my opinion, presentation due to the classic foam, or crema, that rests atop the coffee.

This unique quality of espresso occurs when air bubbles combine with the finely ground coffee’s oils. Then, the bubbles, essentially CO2 microbubbles, suspend on top of the coffee to create a flavorful, light brown froth for you to sip the bold flavored coffee through.

Aside from a single or double shot of espresso, lattes and cappuccinos are also fan favorites.

Both of these selections combine espresso, steamed milk, and foamed milk, with a latte containing a greater amount of steamed milk and a lighter layer of foam compared to a cappuccino.

And lastly, let’s debunk another common espresso misconception.

Most believe espresso contains a greater amount of caffeine than regular drip coffee, however, a double shot of espresso, which is 2 ounces, contains roughly 80 mg of caffeine. The average 8 ounce cup of traditionally brewed coffee, on the other hand, contains approximately (depending on roast, measurement, and brewing method) 80-90 mg of caffeine.

So, ounce for ounce, yes, espresso does contain more caffeine. But, due to its rich nature, espresso isn’t enjoyed in 8-12 ounce servings like traditionally brewed coffee. Therefore, your typical espresso would contain 40-80 mg of caffeine compared to your typical cup of drip coffee which contains 90+ mg of caffeine.


Since we’ve covered quite a bit of ground today (pun totally intended), let’s close out with a comparison of each coffee roast we covered today, viewing their similarities and differences all in one place.

*The roasting times and temperatures listed are approximate, specific times and temps vary between roasters. These are general guidelines to show the gradual difference between roasts.

Check out Lifeboost Coffee Embolden Dark Roast.


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